Purdue News

October 18, 2006

Purdue research grants aim to enhance proficiency, diversity in engineering and science

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue researchers will explore how to foster understanding and lifelong interest in engineering and science concepts by youngsters and teachers through four studies being conducted at the university.

The research projects are part of the Young Engineer Studies, or YES. These seed grants range from $41,000 to $45,000 and the research will take place during the 2006-07 academic year. Purdue's Department of Engineering Education and the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning, or INSPIRE, are funding the studies.

"It is important to increase the interest, ability and diversity in engineering and science," said Kamyar Haghighi, head of the Purdue Department of Engineering Education and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "One of the ways we can accomplish this is to conduct research studies such as these that will uncover the best ways to help teachers, educators and children in the P-12 classroom become more involved with engineering and science."

Faculty within the Department of Chemistry, Department of Engineering Education, Department of Educational Studies and the Department of Psychological Sciences received the grants. The programs are geared to promote research in engineering concepts for preschool to sixth-grade students.

"Children demonstrate an enormous curiosity in how things work and a great capacity to imagine new worlds and inventions – which is exactly what engineering and science are all about," said Sean Brophy, an assistant professor in Purdue's Department of Engineering Education who received one of the grants. "What we want to find out is how we can harness that interest into a lifelong desire to study and pursue careers in engineering and science."

Another goal of the project is to promote educators in the preschool-12 classroom to incorporate engineering concepts into the learning environment.

Criteria for receiving the non-renewable, one-year grants included the ability to build upon current research related to engineering thinking and how to teach it to young learners. Another factor was the potential to achieve valid research results and the possibility of the research to have a broad impact on teaching and learning. The grant initiative is designed to stimulate research in engineering education of young learners and be a catalyst for achieving outside funding to continue the research.

"This is the first year for the grants in this program, and recipients were recruited from Purdue's West Lafayette campus," Brophy said. "Next year, we will make the grants available for all Purdue campuses across the state."

The four recipients, academic areas and research projects for this year's Young Engineer Studies are:

• George Bodner, Department of Chemistry and Department of Engineering Education, to investigate how sixth-grade and middle school students' experiences have shaped their perceptions of the field of engineering.

• Sean Brophy and Demetra Evangelou, Department of Engineering Education, to enhance the understanding of the relationship between children's spontaneous play activity and engineering concepts.

• Rebecca Mann, Department of Educational Studies, to determine the effects of participation in pre-engineering activities on elementary students' perceptions of the field of engineering.

• William Graziano, Department of Psychological Sciences, to understand how childhood antecedents impact children's interest in studying science and engineering.

This initiative is one of several programs funded through grants from Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. and the Martinson Family Foundation. In March, Bechtel gave Purdue's Department of Engineering Education a $1 million grant, renewable for up to four additional years, to expand the university's preschool-12 educational research efforts. Bechtel earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1946 and an honorary doctorate in engineering in 1972 from Purdue. He serves as chairman emeritus of Bechtel Group Inc. in San Francisco, one of the nation's largest engineering and construction companies.

The Martinson Family Foundation of Lawrenceville, N.J., supports educational initiatives that encourage collaborations between universities and K-12 math and science educators.

When Purdue established the Department of Engineering Education in 2004, it was the first time any university in the country had created an academic department dedicated to engineering education. The Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education was established later that year, and other universities, such as Utah State University and Clemson University, are following the trend by creating areas related to engineering education.

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-4192, csequin@purdue.edu

Sources: Kamyar Haghighi, (765) 494-3884, haghighi@purdue.edu

Sean Brophy, (765) 496-3316, sbrophy@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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